My wife suffers from severe, life-altering anxiety and depression. When it started a few years ago, she talked to her doctor and tried medication with minimal results and loads of side effects. She spoke with a few different counselors, but her state never seemed to improve. And after many failed attempts at addressing and correcting these issues, she grew discouraged and just . . . stopped fighting.
Over the past several years, her mental health has rapidly declined. It’s cost her her job, her friendships, her physical health, and her ability to truly and deeply experience or enjoy, well . . . anything. She spends most days sleeping on the couch, asking our children to please be quiet and turn off the lights. She contemplates suicide and tells me the only things keeping her from acting on those thoughts are our children.
Her body’s incessant state of heightened anxiety leaves her constantly feeling on edge. The slightest stressor can send her reeling in a series of back-to-back panic attacks that drain her body down to the last drop, then dump her into an eight-hour comatose nap.
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One of the activities she’s found to help pass the time while couch-bound is scrolling through social media feeds.
And that’s where she can find you.
My wife has strong opinions. She usually expresses them respectfully, but sometimes creeps past the line of acceptable behavior. She gets fired up, makes generalizations, and says something that offends you. And you fire back because of course, we all want to have the final word.
But here’s the thing: to you, it’s just another comment war. You might be fired up about it for a few hours, but then you move on with your day. See, you don’t hinge your well-being on her words or opinion of you.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for her. She feels every word you say very deeply. It cuts her to her core and she cannot let it go—not later that night, not the next day, not even that week. In fact, she physically and uncontrollably shakes from the stress of your conversation.
In her current state, she cannot differentiate your sincere and passionate discussion from an all-out assault on her character.
It doesn’t matter that you haven’t spoken with or seen her in years—she cannot fathom that you, one of her “best friends,” would judge and attack her like that. I know what you’re thinking, that’s not what happened! You and I both know that, but she doesn’t.
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Yes, she needs help. She needs to summon the strength within herself to try new medications, new counselors, new support groups. She needs to talk through her anxiety, even if it causes her more anxiety at first. She needs to step outside and fight back against the agoraphobia that keeps her inside for weeks at a time.
But she doesn’t, some days because she can’t, other days because she won’t. And her husband and children pay the price right along with her. Our children creep around their own house, they care for her when it should work the other way around, and they’re told “not now” when she’s too preoccupied managing the extreme emotions triggered by your comments.
She’s not the person you remember from years ago, it’s true.
If you recognize that to be the case with someone, anyone, I urge you to consider their mental state. And if you don’t care about them—if you feel they just need to get help for themselves and it’s not your problem if they don’t—consider their children. And please, please let it go.
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It would take just one minute to say, “It seems we don’t see eye-to-eye,” or “Let’s agree to disagree,” and then just cease to respond. Yes, you may very strongly disagree with her on a topic. You may even believe she’s a bad person for believing what she does. But sometimes our mental health can make us seem or even act like bad people.
It can make us snap at our families when we love them more than anything in the world. It can make us argue with people we haven’t spoken to in years or people with whom we otherwise had a wonderful, loving relationship. So please, show them grace. End the conversation if not for your own peace of mind, for their sake, and for the sake of their family. Because no one’s mental health is worth you getting the last word in.